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David Cicilline

David Cicilline

Posted: June 28, 2010 10:40 AM

We've Changed Our General, Now It's Time to Change Our Policy in Afghanistan

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General Stanley McChrystal's brash and irresponsible comments in a Rolling Stone article last week once again thrust America's military involvement in Afghanistan into the public spotlight.

And while President Obama has been widely praised for making the difficult, but ultimately necessary, decision to relieve the general of his command, there is still more work to be done.

While we may have changed our general last week, we still must change our policy for ending the longest foreign conflict in American history -- a conflict which still has no clear definition of success.

Now is the moment for President Obama to show us the way out of Afghanistan.

Our brave men and women in uniform have accomplished much of what they originally set out to do in the days after September 11th. Al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan has been disrupted and the Obama Administration has taken steps to keep them on the run -- utilizing drone attacks and offering counterinsurgency support to Pakistan in a way the previous administration was not willing to do.

Yet, this year alone, American taxpayers will spend $100 billion on our involvement in Afghanistan -- roughly five times the size of Afghanistan's GDP -- bringing the total cost of this war to $400 billion.

What's more, the money we send over is not being used as efficiently or effectively as it could. Recent studies by the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) and the European Parliament indicate that somewhere from 40-70% of our aid, much of which is intended for rebuilding, never actually reaches the Afghan people. A significant portion of this money flows to corrupt government officials and some even makes its way to the Taliban, in an effort to buy off the same people who wish to do us harm.

At the very least, we owe the American taxpayers the assurance that all funds sent to Afghanistan are being used for their intended purposes. In addition, when we have so many urgent needs at home, how can we possibly justify such unsustainable spending levels halfway around the world?

The evidence confirms that our inefficient spending just isn't working. Compared to the same time last year, the first four months of 2010 saw incidents involving improvised explosive devices surge 94%, assassinations of civilian officials rise 45% and three times as many suicide bombings.

Of course, we have no more precious resource in Afghanistan than the members of our Armed Forces who continue to serve there. And for all the selfless bravery and heroism they have shown, we owe it to them to bring them home and out of harm's way as quickly and responsibly as we can.

That's why I believe that the President should begin the withdrawal of American forces sooner than the July 2011 timetable he has set.

By commencing and committing to the scaling down of American involvement early next year, we can put the Afghan people on a path to a brighter future and protect American interests.

Rather than abandon the country to the type of power vacuum and ensuing chaos that we overlooked in the 1990s, and realized so tragically in 2001, America should reduce its footprint and replace it with a smaller, more strategic and targeted counterinsurgency operation that would be better equipped to build a successful democracy and protect the long-term security interests of America. Ultimately, the solution must be political, not military. In the interim, this approach is a sound and responsible way forward.

This strategy would be based on three pillars of maintaining security, reducing cost and building a significant and lasting relationship with Afghan leaders.

By reducing the visibility of the American troop presence, we are likely to lessen the level of violence dramatically. At the same time, the remaining American troop level would preclude a resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda, enabling the fledgling Afghan democracy to better find its footing.

A smaller American involvement also would mean that a significant amount of the $100 billion spent on the conflict this year could be redirected towards other priorities, such as putting our economy back on track, repairing our infrastructure and making sure we meet our commitment to provide quality, affordable access to health care in the future.

Lastly, this new policy would help us create a real partnership with the Afghan government -- enabling us to find the political solution we're still searching for. With a smaller footprint would come an increased demand for the Afghans to assume more responsibility for their own nation. In turn, a real partnership would develop between our two countries, as a legitimate Afghan democracy establishes itself, ultimately allowing the United States to withdraw its forces completely in a safe and timely manner.

After nearly a decade spent securing Afghanistan, from the streets of Kabul to the mountains of Kandahar, it's time for a new plan -- a plan that will finally bring our troops home. Americans should not be asked to continue to fund this endless and expensive war while so much remains to be done here at home.